Alaska Legislature Passes Foster Youth System Reform and Protection Bills
May 31, 2016
(SitNews) Juneau, Alaska - Today, the Alaska Legislature passed House Bill 27 to make significant reforms to help improve the lives of foster youth in Alaska. The bill, sponsored by Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), includes provisions to get youth into stable, permanent, loving homes and out of foster care, where youth often bounce between a dozen or more homes.
Governor Bill Walker today also thanked the Alaska Legislature for passing HB 200 and HB 27, which reduce barriers for adoption and boost state efforts to find permanent, stable homes for children living in foster care. The two bills passed the Alaska Senate today by votes of 18-2 and 20-0 respectively, and will now be sent to the Governor’s office for his signature.
“I added these two bills to the special session call because protecting Alaska’s children is absolutely critical,” said Governor Walker. “I thank members of the Alaska Legislature for the work they have done in recent years to stand up for our children, and am pleased we were able to get these two pieces of legislation across the finish line this year.”
Sponsored by Governor Walker, HB 200 streamlines legal proceedings involving children in Alaska’s foster care system. This “one judge, one family” model will allow for more timely judicial decisions, helping foster children quickly return home or exit foster care through guardianship or adoption. Additionally, HB 200 will:
- Combine up to four legal proceedings within one judge’s purview;
- Help to more formally recognize and identify extended family members of children in care;
- Reduce barriers for all family members, but particularly those family members of a child covered under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) who want to preserve and have the court apply their adoptive placement preference.
“Expediting a child’s exit from the foster care system helps to reduce trauma to the child and ensure that family connections remain strong,” Governor Walker said. “Our hope is that this bill will increase the number of Alaska Native children finding permanent homes within their family, culture and traditions in a timely manner.”
“We appreciate the partnership of the Alaska Federation of Natives in crafting this important legislation, and for AFN’s advocacy to help ensure the bill’s passage this legislative session,” said Valerie Davidson, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services.
The Alaska Senate also passed HB 27 today, which emphasizes the state’s responsibility for finding permanent placements for Alaska’s foster children and prioritizes placing them with relatives when possible. Sponsored by Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), the bill would also make it a priority for children to stay in the same school through the end of the term when moving from one placement setting to another in the same municipality.
“As a mother, grandmother, and former OCS caseworker, fewer things are of higher priority to me that the safety and well-being of our children,” said First Lady Donna Walker. “I thank members of the Alaska Legislature for their work on these two important bills, and for their commitment to protecting the youth in our foster care system.”
“The Legislature came together to increase the chances that our 2,900 foster youth get a fair shake in life,” said Rep. Gara. “House Bill 27, and the additional help in the budget, will make sure we do better than perpetuate neglect for too many youth. We need to perpetuate love and stability for youth who face too many roadblocks to success.”
House Bill 27 passed the Alaska House of Representatives unanimously in April. The Alaska Senate unanimously approved the bill earlier today. The bill requires more work to be done to find good relative homes for youth if they are available. Currently, Alaska has the second highest per capita number of foster youth waiting for adoptive homes in the nation.
“I can’t list all the members of both parties who went out of their way to help this bill pass,” said Rep. Gara, a former foster youth who lost his father at the age of six. “I especially want to thank the Governor and First Lady for championing these youth. The bill only passed because of their help.”
HB 27 adds foster and adoptive parent recruitment to the duties of the Office of Children’s Services. The bill also requires OCS to continue looking for a home or legal guardian until the foster youth is 21. HB 27 also encourages OCS to work to reduce the number of times a foster youth moves from one school to another.
On the Web:
House Bill 27
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
Source of News:
Office of Governor Bill Walker (I)
Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage)
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